Zu Wei Zhai

Visiting Assistant Professor

 work(802) 443-5842
 Fall 2019: Mon & Wed 10-11am, Thurs 4:30-5:30pm or by appointment
 McCardell Bicentennial Hall 280

Zu Wei Zhai is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology at Middlebury College. He joined the Middlebury faculty in 2017 after completing his NIDA T32 post-doctoral training in the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine. He received his PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Pittsburgh in 2015 and his BA in Neuroscience from Middlebury College in 2007.

Dr. Zhai’s research focuses on the relationship between childhood adversity, neurocognitive development of self-regulation abilities, and the risk for substance and behavioral addictions. His interdisciplinary research combines methods in brain imaging and statistical modeling to understand the underlying structural and functional neural correlates of self-regulation. He also uses longitudinal and cross-sectional data from at-risk youth and their families to identify psycho-social factors that may be used to improve addiction prevention.



Course List: 

Courses offered in the past four years.
indicates offered in the current term
indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]

NSCI 0252 - Behavioral Neuroscience      

Fundamentals of Behavioral Neuroscience
Behavioral neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field that combines approaches and knowledge from psychology, biology, and chemistry to further our understanding of human and non-human animal behavior. In this course, you will study the interrelationships among elements of the nervous systems, co-functioning bodily systems, and behavioral output such as emotions, sex, memory, consciousness, sleep, and language. You will be given an opportunity to apply your knowledge from NSCI 0251 of the nervous system at the micro and macro levels and will revisit the basic concepts of behavioral genetics and psychopharmacology. This cumulative knowledge base will serve as your foundation for advanced study of neural systems and their relative roles in progressively more complex behaviors such as basic reflexes, motivation, rational thought, neural disorders, and therapeutic efficacy. (NSCI 0251; open to NSCI majors only, others by approval) 3 hrs. lect./3 hrs. lab. SCI

Spring 2018, Spring 2020

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NSCI 0700 - Senior Research      

Senior Research
This course is for senior NSCI majors who plan to conduct one or more semesters of independent research, or who plan to complete preparatory work toward a senior thesis, such as researching and writing a thesis proposal as well as, if appropriate, collecting data that will form the basis for a senior thesis. Senior NSCI majors who plan to complete a senior thesis should register initially for NSCI 0700. Additional requirements may include participation in weekly meetings with advisors and/or lab groups and attending neuroscience seminars. (Approval required, open to seniors only)

Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021

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PSYC 0201 - Psychological Statistics      

Psychological Statistics
This course will examine statistical methods used in the behavioral and biological sciences. Students will learn the logic underlying statistical analysis, focusing primarily on inferential techniques. They also will become familiar with the application and interpretation of statistics in psychological empirical research, including the use of computer software for conducting and interpreting statistical analyses. (PSYC 0105; Fall: open to psychology and neuroscience majors and undeclared majors, others by waiver; Spring: open to psychology and neuroscience majors; others by waiver. Not open to students who have taken MATH 0116 or ECON 0210) 3 hrs. lect./1.5 hr. lab DED

Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019

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PSYC 0226 - Brain and Behavior      

Brain and Behavior
Activity within our brains provides the basis for our thoughts and behavior. Brain activity and behavior are dynamic processes subject to both temporary changes (e.g. emotional states, attention, sleep/wake cycles, and sensations) and lasting modifications (e.g. development, language, personality, memory, and therapeutic treatments). In this course, we will explore brain mechanisms that produce such complexity of behavior and examine the contributions of brain activity to psychological and neurodegenerative disorders. In the lab, we will develop our understanding of brain structure, probe our own brain activity, and investigate how chemical changes alter animal behavior in predictable ways. (PSYC 0105; open to psychology majors; others by waiver. Not open to students required to take NSCI 0252) 3 hrs. lect./3 hrs. lab. SCI

Spring 2019

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PSYC 0317 / NSCI 0317 - Biobehavioral Addiction      

Biobehavioral Addiction
Addiction is a pervasive disorder affecting society on a global scale. To understand this complex disorder, addictions are studied from the basic neural mechanisms, such as how neurons respond to addictive substances, to psychological factors and how they protect or increase risk. In this course we will examine the principles of substance addictions, emerging behavioral addictions (internet/gaming, problem-gambling), and underlying mechanisms that drive addiction. Topics include neural pathways of addictive substances, brain functional and structural changes, theories of motivation, neuropsychological risk factors, and modern prevention and treatment. Psychology and neuroscience students will bring their relative expertise to the class for thoughtful review of the literature.(PSYC 0105; not open to first year students; open to psychology and neuroscience majors; others by waiver) 3 hrs. lect. SCI

Fall 2018, Fall 2019

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PSYC 0350 - Directed Research      

Directed Research in Psychology
Directed research provides opportunities for advanced students to become familiar with and participate in ongoing research projects under the direction of a faculty member. The student will first read background literature on the content area to be investigated and experimental methodologies to be used. Procedures involved in conducting psychological research will then be learned through firsthand experience. Potential activities include the design of research and the defining of conceptual variables and the gathering, analyzing, and interpretation of data. Finally, students will learn how to write technical articles in psychology by preparing a paper describing the project, using APA style. (Approval required; not open to first-year students) 3 hrs. lect.

Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021

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PSYC 0408 - Family in Psychology      

Family in Psychology
In this course we will examine the influences of family relationships on psychological development, and the effects of mental health problems on family cohesion. Our course is organized around the following central questions: How do children form emotional bonds with their family? How does family environment impact children’s neuropsychological development? How can family relationships be harnessed for treatment? Students will build knowledge on the interaction between family dynamics and psychological processes, and their clinical applications through foundational literature and cutting-edge research articles. Evaluation will be based on student-led presentations and discussions that culminate in a final research project. (Open to junior/senior psychology majors; neuroscience majors and other by waiver) 3hr. sem.

Fall 2017, Spring 2020

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PSYC 0500 - Advanced Research      

Advanced Research
A program of research arranged to meet the needs of advanced students majoring in psychology. (Approval required)

Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021

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PSYC 0700 - Senior Research      

Senior Research
A program of research arranged to meet the needs of advanced senior majors in psychology. (PSYC 0201 and PSYC 0202; Approval required)

Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021

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PSYC 0701 - Senior Thesis Proposal      

Senior Thesis Proposal
Students hoping to be considered as candidates for departmental honors must enroll in PSYC 0701 under the sponsorship of a department faculty member and submit a formal, written research proposal to the department by 5 p.m. on the Wednesday during the final week of fall classes in their senior year. If the proposal is approved, the student will enroll in PSYC 0702 during the winter term and PSYC 0703 during the spring term of their senior year. (Feb graduates should consult with their advisors about the appropriate semester in which to begin a thesis.) (PSYC 0201 and PSYC 0202; Approval required)

Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021

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PSYC 0702 - Senior Thesis Second Semester      

Senior Thesis Second Semester
Students whose honors thesis proposal (PSYC 0701) has been approved will collect, analyze, and interpret their data. This is the second semester of the 3-semester senior thesis. (PSYC 0201, PSYC 0202, and PSYC 0701; Approval required)

Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021

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PSYC 0703 - Senior Thesis      

Senior Thesis*
This is the third and final semester of the senior thesis. Students will finish analyzing, and interpreting their data. This process culminates in a written thesis to be submitted by 4 p.m. on the Monday BEFORE the final week of spring classes, a presentation, and an oral defense. The decision about awarding departmental honors will be made after the student submits the thesis. (PSYC 0201, PSYC 0202, and PSYC 0702; Approval required)

Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021

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Refereed Publications

Zhai, Z. W., Hoff, R. A., *Magruder, C. F., Steinberg, M. A., Wampler, J., Krishnan-Sarin, S., & Potenza, M. N. (2019). Weapon-carrying is associated with more permissive gambling attitudes and perceptions and at-risk/problem gambling in adolescents. J Behavioral Addictions.

Morie, K.P., Jackson, S., Zhai, Z. W., Potenza, M. N., & Dritschel, B. (2019). Mood disorders in high-functioning autism: The importance of alexithymia and emotion regulation. J Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(7), 2935-2945.

Zhai, Z. W., Yip, S. W., Lacadie, C. M., Sinha, R., Mayes, L. C., & Potenza, M. N., (2019). Childhood trauma moderates inhibitory control and anterior cingulate cortex activation during stress. Neuroimage, 185, 111-118.

Zhai, Z. W., Yip, S. W., Morie, K. P., Mayes, L. C. Sinha, R., & Potenza, M. N. (2018). Substance-use initiation moderates the effect of stress on white-matter microstructure in adolescents. Am J Addiction, 27(3), 217-224.

Zhai, Z. W., Yip, S. W., Steinberg, M. A., Wampler, J., Hoff, R. A., Krishnan-Sarin, S., & Potenza, M. N. (2017). Disentangling the relationship between perceived excessive family and peer gambling in adolescent problem gambling and binge-drinking. J Gambling Studies, 33(4), 1169-1185.

Canan, F., Karaca, S., Duzgun, M., Erdem, A. M., Karacayli E., Topan N. B., Lee, S. K., Zhai, Z.W., Kuoglu M., & Potenza, M.N. (2017). The relationship between second-to-fourth digit (2D:4D) ratios and problematic and pathological internet use among Turkish university students. J Behavioral Addictions, 6(1), 30-41.

Morie K. P., Yip, S. W, Zhai. Z. W., Sinha, R., Xu, J. Mayes, L. C., & Potenza, M. N. (2017). White-matter crossing-fiber microstructure in adolescents prenatally exposed to cocaine. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 174, 23-29

Zhai, Z. W., Pajteck, S., Luna, B., Geier, C. F., Ridenour, T. A., & Clark, D. B. (2015). Reward modulated response inhibition, cognitive shifting and the orbital frontal cortex in early adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 25(4), 753-764

Tarter, R. E., Kirisci, L., Reynolds, M. D., Horner, M., Zhai, Z. W., Gathuru, I., & Vanyukov, M. M. (2015). Chasing the dragon: Association between transmissible risk, affect during drug use and development of substance use disorder. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 9(6), 464-469.

Ridenour, T. A., Willis, D., Bogen, D., Novak, S., Scherer, J., Reynolds, M. D., Zhai, Z.W., & Tarter, R. E. (2015). Detecting initiation or risk for initiating substance use before high school during pediatric well-child check-ups. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 150, 54-62.

Zhai, Z. W., Kirisci, L., Tarter, R. E, & Ridenour, T. A. (2014). Psychological dysregulation mediates the association between quality of parent-child attachment and development of substance use disorder. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 40(1), 67-74.

Riggs, N. R., Tate, E. B., Ridenour, T. A, Reynolds, M. D., Zhai Z. W., Vanyukov, M. M., & Tarter, R. E. (2013). Longitudinal associations from neurobehavioral disinhibition to adolescent risky sexual behavior in boys: Direct and mediated effects through moderate alcohol consumption. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(4), 465-70.

Clark, D. B, Chung, T., Pajteck, S., Zhai, Z., Long, E., & Hasler, B. (2013). Neuroimaging methods for adolescent substance use disorder prevention science. Prevention Science, 14(3), 300-309.

Ridenour, T. A., Reynolds, M. D., Ahlqvist, O., Zhai, Z. W., Kirisci, L., Vanyukov, M. M., & Tarter, R. E. (2013). High and low neurobehavior disinhibition clusters within locales: Implications for community efforts to prevent substance use disorder. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 39(3), 194-203

Kirisci, L., Tarter, R. E., Ridenour, T. A., Zhai, Z. W., Fishbein, D., Reynolds, M. D., & Vanyukov, M. M. (2013). Age of alcohol and cannabis use onset mediates the association of transmissible risk in childhood and development of alcohol and cannabis disorders: Evidence for common liability. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 21(1), 38-45.

Wang, X. B., Bozdagi, O., Nikitczuk, J., Zhai, Z. W., Zhou, Q., & Huntley, G. W. (2008). Extracellular proteolysis by matrix metalloproteinase-9 drives dendritic spine enlargement and long-term potentiation coordinately.  PNAS, 105(49), 19520-19525.

Articles Under Review

Zhai, Z. W., Hoff, R. A., *Howell, J. C., Wampler, J., Krishnan-Sarin, S., & Potenza, M. N. (Under Review). Differences in associations between problematic video-gaming, video-gaming duration, and weapon-related and physically violent behaviors in adolescents. 

Zhai, Z. W., *Duenas, G., Wampler, J., & Potenza, M. N. (Under Review). Gambling is associated with substance use and violence-related measures in male and female adolescents in representative youth risk behaviorl surveillance data.

Sartor, C. E., Ye, F. Simon, P., Zhai, Z. W., Hipwell, A. E., Chung, T. (Under Review). Parent versus youth perceptions of involvement and monitoring and first cigarette use in girls.

Morie, K. P., Zhai, Z. W., Potenza, M. N., & Mayes, L. C. (Under Review). Alexithymia, emotion regulation strategies, and the role of traumatic experiences in prenatally cocaine exposed young adults.

Yakovenko, I, Prentice, J., Zhai, Z. W., Wampler, J, Krishnan-Sarin, S., Hoff, R. A., & Potenza, M. N. (Under Review). The impact of social norm and social control on gambling is adolescents.

Invited Book Chapters

Yip, S. W., Zhai, Z. W., Balodis, I. M., & Potenza, M. N. (2019). Positive valence disturbances in gambling disorder. In J. Gruber (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Positive Emotion and Psychopathology (pp.367-379). New York: Oxford University Press.

Zhai, Z. W. & Ridenour, T. A. (Under Review). Parental Fortification. In T. A. Ridenour (Ed.), ALEXSA-R User’s Manual: Theory and Evidence.

Gogliettino, A. R., Zhai, Z. W., Zakiniaeiz, Y., Yip, S. W., & Potenza, M. N. (Under Review). Neurobiology of Addiction. Scientific American Psychiatry.

*Denotes Middlebury Student

Department of Psychology

McCardell Bicentennial Hall
276 Bicentennial Way
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753